Curt’s Comments: A couple of years ago, I stopped by the Helgoth farm near St. Libory for an interview. It was spring and they had just been hit at the farm by a hail storm. They had to replant thousands of tomatoes, and worried about how well their crops would do. But this is nothing new for this family. They’ve been farming for decades, and have taken their wealth of knowledge to produce high quality food for their loyal customers, and for area school children as well.
Here is their story…
For Chuck and Shelly Helgoth of St. Libory, growing and marketing produce to loyal customers is part of a three-generation family tradition. In addition to 900 acres of corn, the diverse family operation includes marketing produce every day at farmers’ market in Grand Island and through their popular roadside stand along Highway 281. Young people and their parents know the family because they operate their own pumpkin patch each September and October, including a nine-hole farm-themed miniature golf course, corn maze, hayrack rides, petting zoo and hay fort.
In addition to pumpkins, the family raises melons, cantaloupe, tomatoes, sweet corn and other vegetables. “Melons and vegetables like the sandy loam soil we have around here,” Chuck Helgoth says. His father began raising melons in 1956, and bought and opened their roadside melon stand in 1967.
With such diversity of crops, reducing risk becomes important. “We worry about hail that can wipe you out in a hurry,” Helgoth says. “We try to plant everything in fields that are spread out across a several mile area.” This reduces the risk of having the entire crop destroyed by a single hail or wind storm.
Helgoths are fortunate to have sons who work extensively with the operation. In the spring, Chuck can work in one field planting corn, while one of their sons helps Shelly plant vegetables.
“Anyone who has ever done truck farming or gardening knows the labor is very intense,” Shelly Helgoth says. “We really couldn’t do everything we do if it wasn’t for the boys. They all have an important role.”
In addition to the pumpkin patch, students around the region probably know about the Helgoth family because their fresh produce is available at lunch time in the cafeterias at several local school districts, including Grand Island, Central City and Centura.
Many Nebraska schools along with the University of Nebraska dining services on City and East campuses in Lincoln are sourcing produce from local farmers these days, according to Casey Foster, director of agricultural promotion and development with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “The momentum is increasing because of consumer demand for local food,” Foster says. “Farmers’ markets and roadside stands have dramatically increased in the past decade.”
In 2012, there are 77 farmers’ markets listed with the Department of Agriculture. This is a growth of 187% since 2000. The number of produce stands has grown by a whopping 700% to over 500 stands in the state. Foster calls these markets the “hidden treasures” of Nebraska.
For more information on the Helgoth operation, visit www.helgothspumpkinpatch.com.
If you like this story or learned something you didn’t know by reading it, please pass it on to your urban friends who are interested in farmers and food production. Be sure to watch the first Friday of every month at Husker Home Place for more stories about the real families growing our food.
Don't forget to stop by the Nebraska Farmer hospitality tent this upcoming week at Husker Harvest Days to visit with editors and staff. We'd look forward to seeing you.